Abuse scandals grip German church

09-06-2021

Central Europe

Maarten Stolk, RD

Marx, during a press conference on Friday. photo AFP, Lennart Preiss

Leading German Cardinal Reinhard Marx wants to resign over sexual abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church. What exactly is going on? Five questions and answers.

Why did Marx offer his resignation to Pope Francis?

The sexual abuse of minors by church officials is a black page in the recent history of the German Roman Catholic Church, the largest denomination in the country with around 22 million members. Research shows that between 1946 and 2014, at least 3677 minors were victims of sexual abuse in the German dioceses. These dioceses have already paid more than 19 million euros to the victims as compensation.

Marx (67), who unexpectedly stepped down as head of the German bishops' conference at the beginning of 2020, feels co-responsible for the abuse. He informed the Pope in a letter last month that a lot has gone wrong in the past ten years of research into abuses in the German Roman Catholic Church. He hopes that his departure as bishop will provide more room for new beginnings.

Has something like this happened before?

Marx's move is special but not unique. Chilean bishops collectively offered their resignation in 2018 over abuse scandals in their country.

How did the Pope react to Marx's letter of resignation?

He has not yet accepted Marx's resignation. The cardinal must remain in his position for the time being. Last week, the Pope sent two bishops to Cologne to conduct more research into the abuses. This research mainly concerns old cases of abuse, which makes the investigation relatively slow and challenging.

Just this week, Pope Francis announced a significant overhaul of the Church Code to protect children and combat sexual abuse. The descriptions of crimes of sexual abuse, including child pornography, are more explicit, and the required actions of a bishop or superior of a religious order when dealing with allegations are stricter. Those measures should prevent future cases of abuse.

Does the abuse also occur in other churches?

Yes, the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland (EKD), the largest Protestant denomination in Germany, ordered a major investigation into sexual abuse in the Church last year. The researchers are expected to publish their results within two years.

Abuse by Roman Catholic clergy has already been documented in many other countries. This spring, it was revealed that 10,000 children and vulnerable adults might have been victims of abuse in France since the 1950s.

In the Netherlands, the Deetman Commission reported in 2011 that Roman Catholic clergy sexually abused nearly 2000 children in the period between 1945 and 2010.

What is next?

The Church hopes to prevent sexual abuse with a package of measures. For example, changes have been made to canon law so that sexual abuse within the Church can be better tackled. Church leaders should take complaints seriously; procedures, penalties and sanctions are more clearly defined. Victims receive compensation. However, it remains to be seen whether these measures help.

This article was previously published in the Dutch daily Reformatorisch Dagblad on June 5th 2021.

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